There are all kinds of things that I like about the Christmas season. But I think maybe the most important concept to me is “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.”
For me that is the very heart of Christmas, that this holy story is about God becoming a part of our lives.
One of the Bible verses that we often turn to at this time of year is one in which the prophet Isaiah, speaking to the King of Israel, who is hopelessly facing a national disaster, tries to offer hope saying: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14 NRSV) What he is saying to the king is that however bad things look, God is with us and God cares. That, it seems to me, is the most important thing to understand about the Christmas story.
I recently read the account of a pastor who was invited to speak to a group of children ages 4 to 7 following their teacher’s lesson about Christmas. The teacher’s lesson was about the animals of Christmas. The teacher spoke of donkeys and doves, of sheep and cows and camels. The pastor decided that she needed to make the lesson more personal so she said:
“We’ve heard lots of lovely stories and songs about all sorts of animals this morning, animals who found out that they were welcome at the manger, who heard the good news that God loved them. But it seems to me that there’s one animal we haven’t thought about much, one creature who also needs to hear that God loves them and that they are welcomed. I wonder if you can guess what that creature is. Here are some clues.
“Some creatures have hooves or paws or claws, but this creature has feet. Some creatures have wool or fur or horns, but this creature has hair. Some creatures have eight legs or four legs, but this creature has two legs. Can anyone guess what I’m thinking of?”
A forest of hands shot up. The pastor thought to herself they were probably all insulted by the obviousness of the answer — these were bright children. She picked one 7-year-old who seemed especially desperate to answer.
“A Kangaroo!” she volunteered, with great gusto.
It took several more attempts before one boy ventured to suggest, rather tentatively, that it might be a human being.
Sometimes the Christmas story seems kind of distant in time and space. It is important to remember that though this tale is 2,000 years old, it is still a very personal story for each of us for indeed it promises that God is with us. Emmanuel.
— Stan Hughes is pastor at Tonganoxie United Methodist Church.